Author: Darlene Wesenberg Rezesztorski
March: Wherein Lily hosts a “Collaborative Learning” tea party, the occasion of Spring Break is celebrated with a professional photograph and a trip to the museum, Lily contemplates changing her major, an important letter is written, and more trouble brews in the Grimes apartment.
The wind howled outside, sleet pounding on the windows. Inside the Mediterranean-blue kitchen, Lily and Blue Jay were having a quiet Sunday supper of beef stew with plenty of carrots and garlic, contemplating the weeks stretching before them.
“Perfect beef stew weather!” Blue Jay commented between mouthfuls. The Hatchling was working on shoving several chunks of mashed carrot into his mouth at once, and Lenore was hovering by the legs of the highchair hoping for tasty morsels.
“These past two months have been rough, but this is getting close to the home stretch. I hope the campus can hold itself together long enough for me to graduate. It’s like we don’t have an academic community of open exchange anymore. Everything is polarized and I’m here in the middle just trying to hang on and get my diploma. Let’s hope that March will be better,” Blue Jay observed.
“In like a lion, out like a lamb. You know, Blue Jay, it’s rough, but I’m glad it’s—us. You know? Us.”
He nodded. “The problems we have—we can keep at them. Work with them.” He paused. “That’s the one thing I’ve never regretted. Us.”
“Well, I have. Plenty of times. But when you think of Orville and Sherl and even Mrs. Hopkinson and her perpetual beau, and all the other couples we know that have screwed up relationships, I think it’s amazing we’ve survived even three years.”
“It’s our inner gyroscopes. Perseverance. And our hope mechanisms.” Jay paused, then laughed. “And the fun and challenge of the journey—choices we made and some that were made for us by circumstance.”
“Glad I married such an optimist. Maybe we balance each other out. Maybe we’re just too busy to think too much. A promise made; a promise kept. We just keep on driving ourselves down whatever road this is.” She sighed. “I hope the car doesn’t end up in the ditch.”
“If we had a car.”
“Do you think we should have taken this caretakership? It sounded so easy, but it’s really a lot of work. A juggling act. It’s an emotional drain as well as a time commitment.”
“Especially since the Grimeses moved in,” Blue Jay added.
“You know, I hate to think of the damage they’re doing to Travis, not to mention each other. Sociologically speaking, over half of all marriages end in divorce within ten years, and she married him before she even finished high school.”
“Did she ever even finish high school? For whatever it’s worth, I think they both made a big mistake. The guy is a total jerk. She fell for the wrong guy. They seem to bring out the worst in each other. Maybe they should both go home and start over.”
“She told me her father cut all ties with her when she married Orville the JD.”
“Damaged goods. Maybe it could be like the parable of the Prodigal Son—but she’s the Prodigal Daughter and he’ll slaughter the fatted calf for her.”
The conversation drifted on in this fashion. Plans were made for a spring break outing at the museum for The Hatchling, certainly at the ripe old age of eight months old enough to enjoy the sights.
There was also talk of enrolling him in a play group being started on campus through W.I.T.C.H. An empty classroom had been designated by the university’s chancellor and the W.I.T.C.H. group was taking donations of toys and furniture to outfit it. Lily thought that it might work out for a couple mornings a week when she was free to help out with the children. Blue Jay was less than enthusiastic, thinking that their little one was still too young to be anywhere but with one of them at all times. Lily argued that the other mothers certainly could give emotional support to one another and discuss the challenges of parenting while attending the university. Also, for every hour they volunteered, they could bank an hour of free time for the library or errands. In the back of her mind, Lily still was interested in volunteering at the Underground Switchboard.
Jay was adamant. “He shouldn’t be in anyone else’s care until he is old enough to tell us about it.” The conversation drifted on, issues unresolved.
On this particular evening, no tenants interrupted. The Hatchling fell asleep as if on cue, Messy Bessie’s cage was draped, and Lost Lenore was given a quick constitutional. Blue Jay and Lily tumbled into each other’s arms.
~ * * * * * ~ The days flew by without too many lost keys at Tannenbaum Arms. Campus disruptions had become second nature, and students trudged to class under the dismal shadow of war. On Friday the 13th, Lily and the Hatchling entertained her friend Pam and Pam’s tiny daughter Molly with a tea party. Pam and Lily first had met at the well-baby clinic almost a year ago, and now Pam had turned up in Lily’s Sociology of Deviant Behavior class.
They had chosen to be partners for a class project and had decided to look at autism. Pam had read a book on the subject. According to Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, this lack of ability to empathize with other humans actually was caused by the mother’s lack of bonding with her infant. He had developed a theory of “the refrigerator mother.”
The professor believed in collaborative learning, so instead of lecturing, most of the periods were filled with student presentations followed by student-led discussion. “Lily, I’m intrigued by the idea of poor interaction between mother and child, but there seems to be some male chauvinism at work here. Why blame the mother? We could get a good discussion going here, I think.”
“Did you ever meet anyone with an autistic child? It would be great to observe interactions first-hand,” Lily offered.
“Not really, but I could ask around. This sort of overlaps with my Child Development class. Maybe someone there could help out.”
There was a pause as Lily arranged several graham crackers with cream cheese on a plastic plate for the children and poured apple juice into plastic sipping cups.
“Look what you did, Lily,” Pam remarked. “You just gave the blue cup to Little Jay and the pink one to Molly.”
“So, what does that mean? I’m burdening the next generation with sexist branding?”
“Probably nothing. Just an observation. Something to think about,” Pam replied.
“Next time I’ll buy rainbow-colored cups. You know, Pam, you raise a point. It’s interesting how you can only find certain clothing items that are good for both girls and boys. They’re usually pale yellow or pale green for baby layettes, with little duckies or puppies. It starts that early. You can’t put a boy in flowers and ruffles or people look at the parents like they are turning their little boy into a homosexual.”
“The Victorians kept their boys in dresses until they could climb trees.”
Lily laughed. “I can’t imagine The Hatchling in a dress.”
“But soon enough he’ll be climbing trees. Look at him trying to walk.” She paused. “My mom and dad raised me as a frilly girl,” Pam continued. “They had three boys and they gave up on ever having a daughter. Then ten years later I came along, a little surprise package. So you see, they treated me like I was a little princess. Overprotected. Pampered. Doted upon. Spoiled rotten, you might say.”
Lily nodded. “So, look at you know. You turned out fine. Life seems to bring its corrective lessons,” Lily thought ruefully of her own parents—her deceased father, her emotionally absent mother. “I’m just the opposite. The oldest. The built-in baby-sitter. More Cinderella than princess. But you know, after a while, it doesn’t matter as much. You have to move on. I did, and I assume you did, too. Here we are, both sitting here with our schoolwork and our babies, both wearing tie-dyed t-shirts and blue jeans. Smiling. Conversing. Drinking our Constant Comment tea, constantly commenting. I suppose someday these two little ones will look back on us and think of everything we did wrong.”
“Or right,” Pam interjected. “Think positive.”
“Yes, that, too. Maybe,” Lily continued.
“Well, at least nobody can accuse us of being refrigerator mothers,” Pam said, grabbing Molly in a big squeeze.
The Hatchling lost interest in the tea party, and with his newfound leg strength, swaggered off into the living room. After a few faltering steps, he resorted to crawling at breakneck speed. Molly and Lenore followed at a respectful distance.
Lily sighed, “Well, let’s scuttle along and see what mischief they’ll find.”
The Hatchling headed right to his toy box and pulled out his tambourine. Molly immediately grabbed it and both children began fussing, neither willing to let it go.
“Distraction works best with her,” Pam laughed. She reached into the toy box and dangled a sock monkey in front of Molly, who immediately let go of the tambourine and clutched the monkey. “Dr. Spock’s Baby Book is my guide. Kids this young are really too young to understand sharing, so your best bet is distraction.”
“So, any thoughts on being an education major?”
“Yes. It’s not such a bad choice for a parent. Generally, you get the same vacations your children have, and summers off for camping and such. And, actually, I find the minds of children are quite amazing. It’s like seeing the development of the human race all over again, from the ground up, literally. I like the little people.” She looked at Lily. “You should think about getting certified to teach.”
Lily had considered herself a devoted scholar, loving nothing better than delving into a good research project, but she realized that she was at a turning point in her academic career. “I should keep my options open. I thought I was on a straight academic track, but now I’m questioning it. And you’re right about children. I remember from the moment The Hatchling was born, he was his own person. Looks a lot like a miniature Blue Jay, but really has his own independent soul.”
“And by the way, Lily, I probably have no business bringing this up, but now that he’s getting older, don’t you think maybe he’s not a hatchling anymore? He’s well hatched.” She smiled, and so did Lily. “Maybe it’s time to drop the Hatchling business.”
“I think you’re right about that. I’m good at cruising on automatic pilot. We call him Little Jay sometimes. I’ll think about this. It’s amazing, how fast babies grow. A teacher. Hmm.”
They agreed to independently research theories of autism and meet after class the following week to outline the presentation, which was not due until the second week in May. Pam left with the observation, “Cold-hearted women, not loving their children? Turning them into isolated little souls? I don’t think so. Why do mothers always get such a bad rap? I think I’ll try to find some other theories about autism to counter Bettleheim.”
The Hatchling fell asleep when the tea party was over. Blue Jay had not yet come home, so Lily sat down at their desk and contemplated the shoes and pant-legs of people passing on the sidewalk, staring blankly through the front windows of their English Basement apartment. Finally, she wrote:
It’s been a while since I heard from you. I hope everything is okay in Tulsa. Marcus and Missy must be in their terrible teens by now. I hope they’re not giving you too much grief like I know I did.
Since your grandson Little Jay is already nine months old, I thought I would update you on our lives. My husband Joshua and I are both still in school. He is hoping to graduate in June if the campus doesn’t explode and I am still plugging away on my Master’s degree. I am thinking of changing my major from Sociology to Education. I’ve discovered that the university system is very sexist and I’d rather be part of the change than play their game. (Ha, you’re probably saying, “She hasn’t changed a bit.”) Anyway, we are living rent-free in exchange for managing an apartment building near the university. It’s been quite an experience, but not necessarily something I’d ever want to make a career out of. Rent-free applies to the financial aspect only. We pay plenty of “rent” if you count work hours (tending the boiler, shoveling snow, vacuuming carpets) and tenant contact time. I don’t know where we’ll be next year, but I don’t think it will be here. It depends if Joshua gets financial aid for his master’s degree somewhere.
Now, to Little Jay. He is the most wonderful miracle I have ever encountered. He has his father’s red hair, but our green eyes. He started toddling around last month and his favorite toy is a little tambourine. He is very jolly and not at all shy. He hardly ever cries. He usually jangles his tambourine when he wants to be picked up. Joshua taught him that. He also plays with our dog Lenore, which Josh brought into our marriage with him. That’s okay, because I inherited a very noisy, messy parakeet from one of the tenants.
Tulsa seems far away, but it doesn’t have to be, really. It would be nice to hear from you sometime. We plan on having Little Jay’s picture taken soon. I will send you one, if you like.
I am sending you much love with this letter, Mom. I think about you every day.
After writing the letter, Lily sat for a long while, staring out the front window of their English Basement, once again watching the feet of the passers-by outside the windows. “I accused Mrs. Grant’s daughter of neglect. Maybe I should have been accusing myself. Maybe caring between parents and children has to be more of a two-way street.” She debated tearing up the letter and throwing it in the trash, but instead she sealed it in an envelope and wrote the address, not sure it was still where her mother was living. Later that evening, the phone rang. Expecting a tenant with a complaint, Lily answered with a defensive, “Hello?” “Lily, it’s Pam. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been checking things out in the library. I can’t find enough on autism to pursue this topic. Just that Bettelheim book that I don’t even approve of. I think we should broaden our project to look more generally at varying views on mothering. What do you think?” “I haven’t had a minute to give it another thought. Sure. That’s fine with me. It would open it up to interviewing various women of different ages and backgrounds. Could be really interesting.” Lily began to see the possibilities. “We could still include a bit about autism, but just not focus on it. Applied sociology. I’d love to work on my interview skills.” They decided to independently develop a list of interview questions and meet after class next week. On Tuesday evening, good to their word, Larry and Lenny showed up at the door. “Guess what day this is, my friends!” “Not hard, since you are wearing matching green bow ties,” Jay laughed. “Come in. You never know who’s going to show up here. Maybe a leprechaun will be next.” “We are heading down to Brady Street, but thought we’d stop by here first and share a little Irish cheer.” He carried a pitcher. “This is a true shamrock juice cocktail, made in the fabulous Apartment 3 in the famous Tannenbaum Arms by yours truly using only the finest Irish ingredients.” “Always welcome. I have some Irish in me, too. I got my red hair from my Irish grandfather,” Jay reached for glasses. “Have a chair.” “In Ireland, there are no snakes, thanks to St. Patrick who drove them all out with a holy rood. And in Chicago, there are probably plenty of snakes, but they’ve dyed the river green. Although we have a river probably green with pollution, here in Milwaukee the best we can do is drink a little glass of green cheer,” Lenny said. “Or get stumbling drunk,” Larry added, “which we’re not going to do because tomorrow’s a workday.” “Well, didn’t you say our Milwaukee Irish all drowned in that Christmas tree ship?” asked Lily. “Dear, you’ve got your stories mixed up.” Lenny smiled. “Not on the Christmas tree ship. But yes, they drowned that sad night, and Milwaukee never recovered.” “Here’s to you! May you be dead a hundred years before the devil knows you’re gone!” Jay and Lily lifted their glasses. The shamrock cocktail was bright green but had a delightful orange flavor on the tongue and burned in the back of the throat, all the way down. “Cheeers!” “Maybe it’s the luck of the Irish that we have such good neighbors,” Jay stated solemnly. “Here’s to Tannenbaum Arms!” It turned out to be a week of surprises with visitors bearing gifts. Orville and Sherl showed up at their door unexpectedly Sunday afternoon. Sherl carried a plate of petits fours and Orville had a large guitar case. Lily and Jay exchanged quizzical glances, Jay suppressing a laugh at the sight of the guitar case.
“We’re just here for a little social call,” Orville announced. “How’ve you been?”
“Come on in, guys,” Jay said, restraining Lost Lenore and stepping aside so the twosome could enter.
“I brought you this treat,” Sherl smiled. “Left over from work last night. Petty furs. A real French delicacy. Frenchy lets us take leftovers home sometimes.”
Jay directed them to seats around the kitchen table. “Please take a chair. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Lily looked closely at Sherl and noticed a puffiness and bruise on the lower left side of her face which Sherl obviously had attempted to cover with makeup. “Where’s Travis?”
“He’s at a friend’s house. They’re doing homework. Or they better be,” was Sherl’s reply.
There was a silence.
“Coffee would be great.”
“How is work going?”
“Okay. There’s this old man, about in his seventies, I think. A fancy dresser with a bow tie and white shirt. He comes for supper every time I work. He always wants to sit in my area. I always give him a big smile, and he always gives me a big tip. Left me a twenty last night!”
“I’m not above a little harmless flirtation. I think he’s a widower. He wears a flashy diamond on his left hand, but he never has nobody with him. I’ve been making good tips,” she beamed.
“And I have a gig coming up in a couple weeks for a bar mitzvah out in Wauwatosa. They saw my ad in the Kaleidoscope. Elvis at a bar mitzvah for a Jewish kid! Shows their good taste. Been practicing. But I guess you’ve heard me.”
Jay laughed. “It would be hard not to hear you. It almost never bothers me unless I’m working on memorizing verb tenses in German.”
“Would you like a tune?”
Lily put the petits fours on a plate and poured coffee in assorted mugs. “Cream? Or should I ask, ‘Skim milk?’”
“A tune?” he repeated.
“Well, sure,” Jay agreed, reaching for a petite four.
Orville proceeded to take out the guitar and strummed wildly, then broke into a room-blasting version of “All Shook Up.”
A cacophony of dissonance followed, as Messy Bessie let forth rhythmic percussive sound and Lost Lenore took up howling. Little Jay looked from one to the other and burst out with his bear growls. Jay and Lily looked at each other in bewilderment and tried not to burst out laughing.
After the song, Jay and Lily politely clapped. “Bravo, Orville! That was…a blast! I’m sure the bar mitzvah lad will be all shook up when you bring this on.”
“It’s really better when I stand and do the hip motions. Are you ready for an encore?”
“Um, I think I’d better get back to my homework. German verbs are doing me in. Maybe some other time.”
“Well,” Orville said. “There is one other thing.” His voice trailed off.
Sherl fidgeted with her coffee cup, swirling the remains around.
Orville swooped in for the last petite four, then leaned back in his chair. “Would it be possible that you could loan us a couple hundred, just for a week or so until a check comes in?”
Jay and Lily exchanged incredulous glances. “Orville, do you realize that we are both students? Sorry. We don’t have any money to spare,” Jay spoke with an unusual softness in his voice.
Lily thought about adding, “and if we did, we wouldn’t want to lend it to you because I don’t think we’d ever see it again;” but held her tongue.
He sighed, returning the guitar to its case. “Well, just thought I’d ask.”
They made an abrupt exit.
“Well, we found out the real reason for that visit,” Jay remarked.
~ * * * * * ~
Spring Break started on a Wednesday. Liberated from classes, Blue Jay and Lily planned a trip to the photographer along with the museum excursion. Since Lily had thought about sending photographs to Jay’s parents and her mother, she thought it might be nice to get a professional photo. Little Jay, formerly known as The Hatchling, was in fine form, smiling at the world from his vantage point in the back carrier.
He had recently learned to tease Blue Jay by patting him on the head when perching in the back carrier. Blue Jay responded with an exaggerated, “Owww!” which evoked a melodic giggle from Little Jay. Blue Jay loved the sound of his son’s laughter, so he kept the game going as they crossed Gertie the Duck’s bridge over the Milwaukee River, past Gimbel’s, past the Woolworth’s—the former home of Messy Bessie—and on down the crowded main street.
The photographer was located on Wisconsin Avenue in the back of the J.C.Penney’s Department Store, just a short distance from the museum, so the whole trip could be accomplished with the Bus 15 to Water Street and a few blocks of walking.
As they passed through the department store aisles, Lily paused, temporarily lured by display counters of thick towels and colorful blankets on sale. The general strategy had been to stay out of such places because of their constrained budget. She sighed. Some plush towels would be nice. But she kept those thoughts to herself.
When they reached the photographer’s bailiwick, they were greeted by an array of larger-than-life baby head posters displayed in shades bordering on fluorescent. At first Little Jay was put off by the bald, bespectacled photographer and made a dour face, but when Lily plunked him down on a low stool and took his trusty tambourine out of her purse, he smiled obligingly. The Hatchling proved to be in an unusually mellow mood and actually seemed to play to the camera. After several flashes and a graham cracker treat, they were ready for the museum. “The proofs will be sent out within a week,” the photographer assured them, shifting his bifocals up to his forehead. “I think we got some good ones, although it is a bit unusual to take pictures of a child with a tambourine. He’s a very photogenic child.”
“I’m sure every parent believes that,” Blue Jay said.
They walked down the avenue, savoring the sheer joy of a brisk March day. “Maybe we’ll see Gertie the Duck!” Lily exclaimed. She felt exuberantly alive, finally liberated from the heavy boots and wraps of winter.
The large department store windows featured displays of pastel-clad mannequins wearing jaunty hats and frozen smiles; the streets were filled with people who seemed to be rushing to important appointments. A few staunch-hearted picketers loitered in front of the Army Recruitment storefront, but it was too early in the day for any important action.
Jay looked longingly in the windows of the Harry Schwartz Bookshop and the Renaissance Book Store, making a note to himself to visit soon. The thought of Little Joshua loose in a bookstore was more than he could contemplate.
They arrived at the museum entrance at 10:00 A.M. just as it was opening. They checked in their coats and the back carrier and splurged on the rental of a bright-yellow duck-shaped museum stroller.
“Where to first, Lily?” Blue Jay asked.
“Let’s start with the dinosaurs here on the first floor and then just work our way up to the second floor.”
They proceeded through the portal, a tunnel-like cave with large plastic stalactites and stalagmites and emerged in a prehistoric world filled with great dioramas of monsters created from the intersection of science and dreams—the flamboyant stegosaurus, the snarling tyrannosaurus rex, and the wistful mastodon. Instead of showing fear, Little Jay excitedly kicked his feet and tried to crawl out of the stroller so he could join these animals.
“He must think they’re just some big green puppies,” Blue Jay remarked.
“Look, Little Jay! Pterodactyl!” Lily attempted to distract him from the great primordial pampas scene. “Let’s push on, Jay,” she said.
The next stop was the Native American display at the top of the second floor. There was a gigantic diorama of Sioux Indians on a buffalo hunt, complete with life-sized buffalo and thundering sound effects.
“This is a very accurate scene in every detail, even the moccasins,” Blue Jay observed. “Of course, the indigenous people had a cyclic concept of time—not like our linear outlook. They killed these buffalo by corralling the herd and driving it over a cliff. They used the skin, the bones, the meat—everything for survival. But they believed that the cyclical nature of the world would cause these buffalo to be reborn in the Spring.”
“I see I’m a captive audience for a lecture,” Lily said. “Just wait until Little Jay is a bit bigger. Maybe in a couple years.”
Blue Jay shrugged. “Well, at least we can show him the Milwaukee dwellers’ secret.”
“Tourists never get this and we don’t tell! Local pride, you know.”
They went over to a rock on the far right-hand side of the diorama. Jay bent down and pressed a door-bell-like button hidden behind the rock. A coiled rattlesnake twitched its tail and gave its rattled warning whenever the button was pushed.
“Look, Little Jay,” Lily said. “Snake! See the snake!”
Blue Jay lifted him out of the stroller and guided his finger to push the button.
“Da!” he said. “Da!”
“Say snake, Little Jay!”
“Da!” Little Jay replied, looking very proud of himself as he tried to push the button on his own.
“I think he’s telling us that he understands cause and effect,” observed Lily. “You push the button, the snake shakes his rattle.”
They moved on through the Native American exhibit, pausing by the skeleton familiarly known to regular museum-goers as the Aztalan princess, with her elaborate stone necklace draped around her neck vertebrae and over her now-exposed ribs.
“She’s beautiful even now, Blue Jay,” Lily whispered. “I always visit her whenever I come to the museum.”
“Yes, but this hurts me. We’ve got to get these bones out of here. How would you feel if a thousand years from now people came and stared at your bones?”
Lily laughed, “Well, I’m sure it wouldn’t matter to me at that point, would it?”
“I don’t find this amusing,” Blue Jay asserted. “I find this is a violation of humane treatment of a corpse. The Aztalan people were not indigenous to Southern Wisconsin. No one knows where they really came from or how they disappeared. Some people think they are related to the Aztecs, but that’s been disproved. Over by Lake Mills you can visit the remains of one of their wooden fortresses. They were mound builders. Their mounds are all around that area.” He walked over to another display, a small reconstruction of the Aztalan village. “Look. This shows how they stuck these poles up in a huge circle to protect their community of separate lodges.”
“Blue Jay. Stop. You’re lecturing me again. I don’t need it.” Then, to soften her words she added, “It’s just—I’m a separate person. I need to experience this in my own way. Let’s visit Aztalan sometime,” Lily said.
“It’s about halfway between here and Madison. Maybe this summer we can get there,” Blue Jay agreed. “Anyway, there is a strong movement by Native American groups to remove all ancestral bones from museums, and also to return precious artifacts to the descendants or to tribal custody.”
“But some of this stuff, it’s good to see firsthand,” Lily argued. “Most people are not without empathy, you know.”
“When we first got our television set in the late fifties there was a television Indian on a children’s show called Howdy Doody, who used to say, ‘Ugh! Me Big Chief Thunderthud. Kill many buffalo. Hear my war cry,’ and then he’d make a twisted little yodel sound. I don’t think of it every day, but somewhere that’s stuck in the back of my brain like a tape-recorded message. How many thousands of people still have this little message and others like it whirling around in their brain cells? This all needs to be worked out,” Blue Jay mused. “It really calls for a more respectful outlook, I think.”
“Well, I’ll sign a statement now,” Lily persisted. “To Whom It May Concern in Future Centuries: You have permission to put my bones on display if it will further the understanding and appreciation of the typical Wisconsin citizen in the Year of Our Lord, 1970.”
“Rest in peace, Princess of Aztalan,” Blue Jay muttered.
They moved on in silence, looking at the various reconstructed Woodland Native American habitats. “I can’t wait for our trip to the Upper Peninsula this summer,” Blue Jay burst out. “I have a lot of favorite places—including Ojibwa home sites. I even figured out where my ancestor, Chief Andrew J. Blackbird, used to live. A beautiful view of Lake Superior is about all that’s left.”
“Once a Yooper, always a Yooper,” Lily responded. “Why is my world filled with Yippies and Yoopers?” She laughed. “Seriously, though, I’m looking forward to the visit.” She wheeled the duck stroller through a portal defined by four pseudo-Corinthian pillars. “Let’s go peek into the Ancient Civilizations Wing before Little Jay or I have a meltdown. The Minoan stuff is my other favorite. I’ll pretend I’m in Crete. No bones there, just coins and pottery shards and an amazing snake goddess figurine. Archaeologists call her Potnia, but if no one has cracked the Minoan language, I don’t know how they figured out that was her name.”
Lily was spellbound by the shards and statuary in this case and could have stayed there longer. “These pieces are all stories, just waiting to be perceived,” she speculated. “It’s a journey into the past that gives us understanding of ourselves.”
Little Jay was growing weary of sitting in the duck stroller and his naptime was approaching, so after a quick visit to the Minoan display and an even quicker walk-through of the Pre-Columbian Room, they decided to leave. “You can’t do it all in one day,” Blue Jay observed.
“Especially with a toddler,” Lily agreed.
Little Jay fell asleep in his back carrier on the bus and snuggled against his father’s shoulder snoring lightly. By the time they got home, Lily and Blue Jay were ready for a nap, but Little Jay had a second wind and Lenore was ecstatic and in need of a constitutional.
The other highlight of the day of the museum visit was a special dessert. Lily had made apple cake the night before. Little Jay made a total mess of it and ended up with the sticky cream cheese frosting on his nose and in his hair and all over his little sailor suit which he had been dressed in for the picture. She sighed. The outfit had remained remarkably clean, up to this point.
“Time for a splish-splash, Little Jay,” Blue Jay said, scooping him out of his high chair and flying him like a model airplane into the bathroom. “Let’s go find Gertie, your rubber duckie.”
“Just last year at this time I was a blimp,” thought Lily. “A six-months-pregnant blimp trying to hide her blimpiness under big sweaters to keep her research assistantship. Now look at this Wonder Child. A child really teaches the parent a big lesson about love. And also a lot about expanding and contracting.” She smiled as he splashed in the tub, then ran around the kitchen naked as a blue jay as she cleared away the cake crumbs and washed down the highchair tray.
With Spring in the air, the feeling of confinement gave way to a strange combination of desperation and euphoria. The tenants in Apartment 6 began to invite large numbers of friends over for almost nightly jam sessions. They also acquired a mimeograph machine and began printing brief updates and background articles on protest activities in the area.
“These could be historic documents,” Jay mused, as he found a copy of the latest bulletin that Bob had placed in their doorway. He went for the coffee pot and poured himself a cup, not bothering to re-heat it. He plopped down into a chair and held out the paper to Lily. “Here’s useful information. Look at this. They’re starting a Free University. All sorts of person-to-person classes. I could teach a poetry workshop for them. Well, not now, but maybe later once I’m done with the semester.”
Lily took a more practical approach. “We have to check the front hall so they don’t decide to post it and get us fired.”
“And this is good to know, Lily. There are several narcs out there, sitting in on our classes, pretending to be part of the revolution, but actually they are spying on us and our professors. This actually gives their names.”
“So we can assume they will soon be job hunting,” Lily laughed.
“Lily, don’t make light of this. The thought that anyone next to you is a rat-fink spreads a feeling of distrust and alienation across the campus.” He paused. “You know, this will all be history someday. All done, all gone. I wonder how many people like that Marquette dude I met are out there collecting things like this hand-out. They are artifacts, really.”
“Every age has its own issues.”
“But these are our issues, and this is our time. I think we are really part of a great revolution.”
“Maybe every generation feels like that. Our parents had World War II and Korea and their parents had the Great Depression.” Lily scowled, not in the mood for this conversation.
“But maybe some people in the future will care. Will want to hear about this. Maybe some future Hatchling of the Hatchling.”
Lily looked at him solemnly. “Like Dylan says, ‘The country I come from is called the Midwest.’ He nailed that all right. I sometimes think we are just little Midwestern people that nobody outside our little world gives a damn about; so we have to care about ourselves and each other. We are Riesman’s Lonely Crowd. Maybe we will all have to go around with invisible shields to protect us from narcs and smoke bombs.” Lily was getting into her own thoughts, which could make Jay uneasy if she continued in that direction too long.
“Jay, we have this little world that we live in. English Basement Cocoon World. Tannenbaum World. UWM World, all impacted by Outside World. Most people I know don’t give up trying to make things better. We fight back against injustice in our own fashion. Is this how a revolution looks from the bottom up?”
Jay tried to pull her back with humor. It usually worked when Lily started to descend into one of her angry “Poor Lily” moods. “Bottoms up!” he said, tepid coffee cup in hand.
She scowled as he grabbed a poem out of the air. “As the great Emily Dickinson once said, I’m nobody; Who are you? Are you nobody, too?”
His strategy worked. She laughed.
“Blue Jay, I usually don’t know your poets, but I happen to know that one from high school. She’s an old-timer. Never trust anybody over a hundred and thirty. I don’t have to worry about being ‘public like a frog.’ I suppose you’ll have to teach that one to Little Jay. I wonder if they still teach that poem to high schoolers.”
Jay shook his head, pulling another quote out of his endless supply. “These are the times that try men’s souls….” He fingered the mimeographed sheet and re-read it, then carefully placed it in a manila folder where he kept special papers. “Someday I might want to look at this and remember….”
Bongo Bob from Apartment 6 moved to Madison where he felt he would be closer to the real action and was replaced by Jeff Somebody from Madison who felt ready for a new scene. According to Dan, Jeff had been over-involved in the Madison protests and wanted to be more anonymous. Blue Jay and Lily maintained an attitude of benign neglect; as long as none of the other tenants complained. As long as the “Sixers”, as they were privately nicknamed, refrained from clogging drains with candle wax or filling the main stairwell with marijuana fumes, or posting their mimeographed fliers in the front hall, the caretakers chose not to intervene. The revolving band of tenants in Apartment 6 always were conscientious about turning over the rent, so Mr. Dreschler didn’t complain either.
March had come in like a lion, had a lamb-like middle, and morphed again for a lion’s exit, as well. Spring retreated and everyone searched for misplaced mittens as a thick snow swirled around them. The citywide schools were cancelled for the day, buses immobilized. “This is the perfect day for long-simmered home-made chili,” Lily declared, searching in the pantry for a can of beans.
“A snowstorm in March does not have the same impact as a blizzard in December or January,” Blue Jay remarked to Lily as he pulled on his boots to shovel the sidewalk. “Even as you push the dang white stuff one more time, you realize that the earth is tilting on its axis and soon it will be Spring. If we weren’t the caretakers, I’d just let the snow sit there until the sun did its job.”
As he was about to leave the apartment to shovel, the phone rang. “I’ll get it. Go ahead,” Lily said.
It was Mrs. Davis. “I think you’d better come upstairs. There’s something strange going on with those new tenants in Mrs. Grant’s old apartment.”
~ * * * * * ~